Part 1 of 2 Human beings are born to compete for survival, just like any wild animal. We depend on being strong enough, protected enough, fed enough, sheltered appropriately, and safe enough to grow and reproduce. Competition is so widely accepted as a natural state of being. It’s so natural that our society has made competitions a game.
Competition is natural.We watch sports on TV, we gather around marathons and triathlons, we hold the Olympic Games every two years, and we start kids in sports young. So no wonder people who have illnesses sometimes compete with each other sometimes, when trying to support another person with the same, similar, or different illnesses.
It’s human to compete. Competition doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you human. But when it comes to competing to be the “sickest” or “worst” to get our needs met, it threatens our lives, and it sends out an energy that feels sticky and leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Turning that competitive energy for wellness can actually save a life.
I have a number of chronic illnesses that limit me greatly in life. I’ve been sick for almost 13 years. I’ve been to residential/inpatient treatment for my eating disorder too many times to count. I’ve vomited unintentionally almost every day since the beginning of 2010. I have had to get surgeries, procedures, tubes, central lines, an ileostomy, catheters, etc. over the years to manage symptoms. I’m a frequent flier at the hospital, and my medical expenses far exceed what I can afford. Hell does not describe what I’ve experienced, but I know for sure that I do not want ANYONE (even my abusers) to have to experience what I have felt. I would give my own organs to keep someone from having to experience such pain and suffering. I would much prefer to be the one to suffer than to be the caregiver or family member who feels utterly hopeless and powerless, because that is its own hell that hurts just as much as everything I’ve experienced.
People sometimes get intimidated to share their struggles with me because in friends’ words, “I have it worse.” But that’s where the competitive drive is not helpful, and actually quite dangerous. I have friends who suffer immensely. I’ve met most of my closest friends in hospitals and treatment centers so there is no question that a lot of my dearest friends have also been through hell. Nobody feels worthy of compassion and care after being treated like dung by egotistic, power-hungry, shaming providers who work at these treatment centers. Treatment centers, while they do save lives, and can be very helpful for people, they also cause their own flavor of trauma – sometimes worse than the trauma the patient admitted to the center to treat.
When I talk to a friend who is struggling to believe their pain is valid, I try to avoid comparison. I find relating very helpful, but the most impactful comments in a conversation come from a place of deep love, compassion, empathy, and patience. Listening and validating is more impactful than sharing your war story, your pain and your suffering. You can relate without dumping your trauma onto the other person who is also hurting.
I get messages from people in facebook groups, or friends from treatment, asking how they can get the same medical devices I have, or have the same procedure or surgery I had. I have to admit these conversations trigger a part in me that feels invalidated when people assume that if they had my set up, they’d be happy. It isn’t that I don’t think the person needs the medical device, procedure, or surgery they are inquiring about. And there is a way to ask about medical interventions without coming across as competing to be the sickest. But if the conversation goes back and forth with us just throwing out all our worst trauma to each other, it leaves us both feeling sick to our stomachs and even more alone. I’ll give you an example of the difference.
The other day I received a message from someone who’s daughter was struggling very similarly to me, although she has to use a wheelchair, and I am ambulatory. This mother asked me about what I go through, listened, and then shared what her daughter goes through, what they have tried, and what symptoms she has. I listened and validated that what her daughter is going through sounds horribly painful and I would be happy to help in any way I could. She mentioned that she read an article I wrote for The Mighty website, and she said her daughter related so much that she had to reach out and ask for my doctor’s name and number. I was happy to give it to her, and happy to let my doctor know that this person was going to be calling him the next day. This interaction felt amazingly satisfying to me. My goal in life is, and has always been, to help others, and this time I got to!
The other example of frequ